CHRIS PINE (Sam) was recently seen starring opposite Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hardy in FOX’s “This Means War,” an action comedy. Additionally, he lent his voice to the animated feature “Rise of the Guardians,” which is due out in November 2012.
Previously, Pine starred opposite Denzel Washington in the FOX feature film “Unstoppable,” directed by Tony Scott. In 2009, Pine starred as James T. Kirk in Paramount’s box-office smash-hit feature film “Star Trek” for director JJ Abrams. The film chronicles the early days of Kirk and his fellow USS Enterprise crewmembers. He will reprise that role in two upcoming sequels of the franchise.
Pine’s additional feature credits include the Paramount Vantage film “Carriers,” the educational animated feature “Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey, Bottle Shock” for writer/director Randall Miller, the independent feature “Small Town Saturday Night” for writer/director Ryan Craig, Joe Carnahan’s gritty ensemble drama “Smokin’ Aces” for Working Title Films and Universal Pictures, “Blind Dating,” costarring Eddie Kaye Thomas and Jane Seymour, the Fox/New Regency romantic comedy “Just My Luck” opposite Lindsay Lohan and “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” opposite Anne Hathaway.
On the stage, Pine was most recently seen starring in Martin McDonagh’s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. In March 2011, Chris was awarded Best Lead Performance by the LA Drama Critics Circle for his performance.
Pine also received rave reviews and a 2009 Ovation Award nomination for his performance in the drama “Farragut North,” starring opposite Chris Noth at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. His additional stage credits include the Neil LaBute play, “FatPig,” also at the Geffen Playhouse, and “The Atheist,” a one-man show performed off-off Broadway.
Pine graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in English and he has studied acting at the American Conservatory Theater and University of Leeds in the U.K. His extensive theater work includes performances in productions of “Our Town,” “American Buffalo,” “No Exit,” “Waiting for Godot” and Orestes.
Pine’s parents are actors Gwynne Gilford and Robert Pine. His late grandmother, Anne Gwynne, was a film actress of the ’30s and ’40s.
Q:How did the filmmakers bring “People Like Us” to your attention?
A: It was in the fall of 2010. I knew Alex [Kurtzman] and Bob [Orci] from making “Star Trek.” I actually knew Bob more than I did Alex, so when I got a phone call from Alex I was kind of shocked and excited because I never really had a conversation with him before. He proposed the idea of the script and asked if I would read it and tell him what I thought.
As so often happens when you read good material, it doesn’t take long after finishing the last page to realize that this will be a part of your life. I called Alex back right away and said let’s figure it out and I was off to do another movie but scheduling worked out perfectly. It was something I was very much looking forward to doing.
Q: What attracted you to the project?
A: It’s the humanity of the film, which is kind of a vague and large term, but it’s about family and we all have families whether they’re disbanded or unified and whether they’re loving or not, or whether they’re emotionally abusive in a very passive aggressive way or whatever. It happens to be that we all come from our own little nest. And this just happens to be one of the more dysfunctional nests of all time and I liked it. I liked the balance of humor and anger…so many layers of emotion that had been packed down.
Q: How did you approach the dynamics of stepping into this on-screen family as an actor?
A: What was hard from my point of view coming in, as an actor, is that there are many things referenced in the script to times passed. There are many things referenced to the way people were treated in the past, so to build a substantive, full and rich story to complement and to hold up the story that we’re telling on screen, it was very important to have a really clear idea of what had transpired in the past. In working with Michelle’s [Pfeiffer] character Lillian, my on-screen mother, I needed to be quite clear about what my issues were with her and what our last conversation was like. So when I first enter that room, I’m very clear as to where we stand.
I think I could talk about this film all day because it was such a unique experience for me, where you have the wonderful actor moments, like sitting across the table from one another and talking about what we think about a scene. I loved talking to Alex [Kurtzman], who was a big proponent of finding and exploring this story and the characters.
Q:How did director Alex Kurtzman describe the project to you?
A: Alex framed it as a story inspired by true events. And knowing from what he said on the phone about what the story meant to him, I was worried that I was entering territory where people can be protective of those stories. But from the get go it was a shared and true collaboration. He was interested in what we actors wanted to bring to it and what felt truthful to us and what our stories were coming into it. I can absolutely say no matter how personal it was for Alex, by the end I think all of us were going through our own personal stories. It became a really safe place to explore a lot of issues that on other sets and in other environments would not be easy.
Q:What was your reaction when you heard it was inspired by true events?
A: It didn’t really mean anything to me other than it’s inspired by a personal story, like most stories are born from personal experience. Alex said that he met his half-sister later on in life and how important that was to him, which made me think of my own sister and how important my relationship with her is.
Q:Are the themes in “People Like Us” relatable?
A: One hundred percent. Family is almost by definition dysfunctional; we all carry around our own issues. This is just our version of that dysfunction and it is our framework to tell what it means to be in a family—all the love, all the anger and all the forgiveness.
Q: How did you react to the script?
A: The script reminded me of how important framework is. It’s like building a home. You need a solid foundation, and this script was solid. It was a full piece of material that I could start getting into.
I was so excited by the opportunity to delve into it and have the support of other actors that wanted to get in there too. We talked and figured out stories and back-stories and how they intertwined. We had to build this world, so the foundation had to be really strong emotionally, knowing where everyone intersected.
Q: How are you describing the film to friends?
A: I basically do a one liner of it: A guy whose life is going nowhere comes back to L.A. to bury his father and hopefully collect some cash, which he does and soon finds out that it belongs to none other than a half sister he never met, who is a recovering alcoholic and has a child. Amidst those issues, revelation and reconciliation and all sorts of good things happen.
Q: Does your character Sam have a complicated relationship with his parents?
A: Sam’s got very complicated relationships with his family. Sam is a class-A bullshit artist with his work, with himself, with his girlfriend, with his life. He is Mr. Show. He has created—because of a deep pain, a deep sense of abandonment—a wonderful, shiny, bright, big show that he sells to the world while he dies a little bit more every day. The death of his father creates a huge chink in his armor.
From a lot of unsaid moments there are these very brief glimpses into Sam’s psyche. We definitely know that his father spent a lot more time with everyone else than he did with his own son. I was very protective of Sam in this film. I get it now when actors say how sad they are when they have to say goodbye to their characters.
Q: In the story, Sam is tasked with giving the money his father left to a half-sister and her son whom he had never met. Is he conflicted or determined about what to do with the money?
A: At the initial moment of discovering the money, I think he’s determined to figure out this mystery. I think in Sam’s mind he’s like this money’s mine. I don’t think Sam for a moment thinks he’s giving the money away. He’s just too selfish and he’s just too in need and too desperate. But he does really want to find out who these people are. And that is Sam’s journey. He goes from being a selfish guy who’s emotionally incapable of connecting to another human being in an authentic way, toward being someone who finds family, who finds the other, who learns how to empathize, who learns how to really give of himself completely to someone else.
Q: How does Sam meet his half-sister Frankie?
A: He sees Frankie actually first at her apartment building and he gets a glimpse of her relationship with her kid, who obviously is screwed up at school. He sees her realizing the news that her father’s dead. Then she races in that moment of emotional panic to an A.A. meeting because clearly she’s been unhinged by the news and could very quickly go out and drink, which she doesn’t want to do. She’s sober. So Sam follows her, then finally decides to confront her afterwards.
Q: What are Sam’s feelings when all is revealed?
A: That moment for Sam was more about just the sheer shock and awe of having another sibling. It was like she’s got a kid and she kind of looks like me—all in a flurry of emotions. He doesn’t know what to say to her. That was the kernel of the moment: the smooth operator finally being completely at a loss for what to say and how to lie.
Q: What does Sam find when he befriends Frankie and her son Josh?
A: Sam starts to enjoy a sense of community with the family that he’s weirdly created very quickly with Frankie and Josh. It’s so much easier for him to live in this fantasy than have to confront Frankie with the truth that he’s her half-brother. Sam does see what’s happening with Frankie but because he’s so emotionally available to her he can’t handle having to deal with it. Sam, being the screw up that he is, waits until the last second to tell her.
Q: What was it like watching Elizabeth inhabit the character of Frankie?
A: I knew Elizabeth socially a little bit before making the film and she is a social butterfly. She is on; she is confident; she does not suffer fools. It was a brilliant casting choice because that is exactly the energy that Frankie has. That is Frankie without all the simmering stuff underneath. So I think Elizabeth’s job, which she did so well, was to play that thing that she has down so well and then just to carve away at it, at least to show glimmers of the scared, insecure woman underneath that. And she did a remarkable job. I think she was very brave in how she went about her work and forced herself to bring that stuff up to the surface, which was really hard.
Q: Talk about working with Michelle Pfeiffer.
A: We worked together well in an artistic sense, but our roles were fraught with incredible heavy, heavy-duty anger on both sides. So some days on set were not easy.
Q: How was working with director Alex Kurtzman?
A: I got great joy out of watching Alex direct for the first time, watching him bring to life something that was so emotionally impactful for him. But what I really want to stress is that Alex’s greatest gift is his incredibly fine-tuned sensitivity.
Alex was always inclusive. He always created a true sense of wanting to make it better communally. So work became this even playing field and he had the ability to not be precious about something that was clearly very precious to him.
Q: Where does the humor in the film come from?
A: We found a lot of it humor as we were doing it. We found humor in the moment. What “finding it in the moment” means is that when you’re with a bunch of people humor naturally comes out, no matter what kinds of issues there are. It’s a natural human instinct to want to make people smile even in the darkest of times.
Q: What do you think this film says about choices that we make?
A: As someone very important said, we are the sum total of the choices we make and it’s just an undeniable reality. Lillian, my character Sam’s mother, made a very distinct choice and she is reaping what she sowed. Sam’s father did the same thing. My character Sam has made mistakes for as long as he can remember and he is paying for it. Every choice takes us down a path and we all make bad choices now and then in our lives. A lot of those choices affect other people and a lot of those choices hurt other people. It’s that final choice of whether you’re going to blame people or you’re going to forgive them,and I think Sam makes the choice to forgive and to ask forgiveness of others.
Q: Talk about L.A. as a character in the story.
A: I grew up in L.A. and I hear from people all the time about how they don’t like L.A. or L.A. is fake or it’s not a real city. But in this film, we show a lot of the real L.A. We show Laurel Canyon and all of its fading ’60s glory, the country store and Wonderland—it’s one of my favorite drives in L.A. You have Frankie’s apartment in the San Fernando Valley—that kind of ’70s tract housing with weird Hawaiian markings on the outside of the buildings and a communal pool in the middle.
Then we have Cole’s restaurant downtown in one of the oldest buildings in L.A. that references the time of the trolley car when it used to stop there on its way to the beach and up to Altadena. We also have Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, the Standard, the new L.A.—you have all these different color patchworks of what Los Angeles is, which is a multi-cultural melting pot of different times and people.
Q: Did you and the filmmakers talk about music in the film?
A: Yes, we did. What was really important to me in terms of the music was discovering my character Sam’s relationship to it. And I think the focal point of that was Jerry, his dad. And since for Jerry music was his life, my question to Alex always was then what is Sam’s relationship to music? Does Sam resent it? Does Sam resent when he walks in and sees all these records that got so much more love and attention then he did? Does he then go the other way or did he try to be a musician? Was he a failed musician? Did he try to please his father with music? So the idea of music became a real central conversation when discussing Sam.
Q: What is important to you about making this type of film?
A: I would love to be able to make films like this all the time. It’s why I got into acting— to make films that make you think and showcase actors’ talents.
I hope we come back to these types of films but it seems like at this point the big tent-pole films are prioritized. With films like “The Artist” winning Oscars, it speaks well of us as an artistic community in that there’s still a place for a good story.
Q: Your character Sam passes “rules” his father told him on to his nephew Josh. Why is that important in the film?
A: To me passing down his father’s “rules” is Sam’s way of connecting his deceased father to the new generation of Harpers. Sam’s forgiving his father and saying, “I’m going to do you a solid, Dad. I’m going to give these rules to your grandson.” He is in fact introducing Jerry to his grandson, passing down the little piece of love that Sam remembers to the next generation. It’s one man looking at a really young boy who’s going to be a man and telling him more or less that he has a family and that he is loved.